Brian Rafalski to Be Honored By U.S. Hockey Hall

Another former Devil is going into a hockey Hall of Fame. Joining former coach Pat Burns, who is joining the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto next November, Brian Rafalski was named one of the newest members of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame last week. Rafalski, a Dearborn, Michigan native, will join Karyn Bye Dietz, Jeff Sauer and former Devils assistant coach (under Doug Carpenter from 1984 to 1986) Lou Vairo as this year’s inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall in Eveleth, Minnesota this December.

Much like the subject of last week’s post, Andy Greene, Rafalski was another find by the Devils scouting staff and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. Going undrafted after four years at the University of Wisconsin from 1991 to 1995 (where he played under coach and fellow inductee Sauer), the defenseman played in Europe for Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League and Hameenlinnan Pallokerho and Helsingin IFK in Finland for four seasons from 1995 to 1999 before being signed as a free agent by the Devils. Over his seven years as a Devil, Rafalski had 44 goals and 311 points in 541 games over the regular season. He won two Stanley Cups with the team in 2000 and 2003. After joining the Detroit Red Wings in 2007 as a free agent, he would add another Stanley Cup with them in 2008.

Some of Rafalski’s other honors over his career include: All-WCHA Rookie Team (1991-92), All-WCHA First Team (1994-95), AHCA West First-Team All-American (1994-95) and WCHA Defenseman of the year in 1994-95 in college. In Europe: 1997 and 1999 recipient of the Pekka Rautakallio trophy for best defenseman in the SM-liiga (Finland), Matti Keinonen trophy for best plus/minus in 1999 in SM-liiga, and the 1999 Kultainen kypara award for the best player in the SM-liiga. Over his 11-year NHL career, he was honored with: a place on the 1999-2000 NHL All-Rookie Team, Rookie of the Month for February 2000, a spot on the 2003-04 Eastern Conference squad at the All-Star Game in Minnesota and a spot on the 2007-08 Western Conference squad at the All-Star Game in Dallas. In international play: named best defenseman of the 2010 Olympic Men’s hockey tournament as well as an All-Star selection in that same Olympic Games in Vancouver. Rafalski represented the U.S. in three Olympic Games: 2002 in Salt Lake City where he won a silver medal, 2006 in Torino, Italy where the Americans finished a disappointing eighth and the 2010 games where Team USA won silver after losing a thrilling Olympic Final to Canada. That final game included Rafalski’s former Devils teammate Zach Parise scoring the game tying goal for the Americans with less than 30 seconds on the clock, stunning the Canadian crowd and sending the game to overtime.

His other international appearances include: the 1992 World Junior Championship, winning bronze, the 1993 World Junior Championship, finishing just out of contention in fourth, the 1995 World Championship, where the Americans finished in sixth and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, where the U.S. again finished just out of medal contention in fourth. His best international tournament undoubtedly came at the 2010 Olympics, where, in the American’s 5-3 win over Canada early in the tournament, he scored two goals and added an assist. This win won Team USA their group and earned them a bye to the quarterfinals. Rafalski led all defenceman in scoring in that tournament.

Professionally, Rafalski was named in 1999 by The Sporting News as the best hockey player not in the NHL. Upon his signing by the Devils, Rafalski made an immediate impact: he was paired as a defensive tandem with Scott Stevens (who would remain his defensive partner until Stevens’ retirement in 2004). Although 26 years old in 1999-2000 (much older than an average NHL rookie), he led all rookie defensemen with a +21 rating that season. Although that plus/minus rating was only second among Devils defensemen and tied for first among all rookies (forwards and defensemen). Rafalski was talented offensive defenseman: he totaled 79 goals in the NHL over 833 games and tallied another 43 in Europe in 142 games played on that continent. He notched 436 assists in the NHL for a total of 515 points while adding 68 assists in Europe for 111 points. In the NHL he finished his career with a +178 rating (a testament to his solid two-way play) and 282 PIMs (he had 68 PIMs in Europe). The playoffs were a stage that Rafalski truly shined on. Never missing the postseason during his entire tenure in the NHL with the Devils and Red Wings, he finished his career with 29 goals, 71 assists and 100 points in 165 games. He was +42 with 66 PIMs. In European playoff tournaments, he scored 16 goals and 20 assists in 30 games for 36 points and had only 8 penalty minutes.

Rafalski retired in 2011 in his final year of a contract with Detroit. His lengthy career had taken a toll on his knees and back. In 2014, after three years away from professional hockey, Rafalski attempted a comeback by signing with the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). However, after 18 days, he was released due to a bad back. Rafalski’s career is now over for all intents and purposes, but he is now getting his due with his inclusion in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was his size that kept him from being drafted by an NHL team right away, as many teams did shy away from his smaller stature, but it was his passion and speed that got him into the NHL, according to Wings GM Ken Holland. It was Brian Rafalski’s two-way skill and winning attitude that would keep him in the NHL.

As for the other Devil-related inductee, Vairo, although he did have a cup of coffee in the NHL, it was his service to USA Hockey that gained him the most notoriety. He is the current director of special projects for USA Hockey, a role he has held since 1992. He has worked for national and professional teams in the U.S. and Europe for three decades. He also served as head coach of Team USA at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and an assistant coach for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic team. Vairo, according to Mike G. Morreale of, studied under the father of Russian hockey, Anatoly Tarasov and won the Lester Patrick Award in 2000. He received the 1994 John “Snooks” Kelley Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association for his lifetime commitment to hockey and, that same year, the Walter Yaciuk Award from the Coaching Education Program of USA Hockey.

Congratulations to the men and woman honored this year by the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, as they are all exceedingly deserving and have helped contribute to the popularity of the game in the United States as well as the high-caliber of play that Team USA has become known for on the international stage.

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